With the ability to treat everything from acne to wrinkles, retinol is among the most versatile and powerful skin care ingredients available. Retinol is another name for the animal source of vitamin A. Vitamin A can be found naturally in foods like liver and whole milk, and many other foods are fortified with the vitamin to make it more widely available in your diet.
When consumed, vitamin A is critical for maintaining normal bodily processes, including:
- Disease resistance
- Bone health
- Reproductive health
- Skin cell integrity
Retinol is often used for skin care since it promotes new cell turnover. Although it is most commonly used for treating adult acne, you can use retinol to see improvements in many other conditions that involve damaged skin.
This article will discuss:
Once it enters the body, retinol breaks down into two substances that the body can metabolize:
- Retinal. Retinal is crucial for vision because it is a component of rhodopsin. Rhodopsin is present in rod and cone cells in the retina. If the body doesn’t have enough vitamin A, it can’t properly synthesize rhodopsin, leading to impaired vision.
- Retinoic acid. Retinoic acid is important for skin health since it helps epithelial cells (skin cells) maintain and renew themselves correctly. Deficiencies in vitamin A can cause scaly, keratinized epithelial cells and suppress mucus production, leading to dry and damaged skin.
Retinoic acid is called tretinoin when used for clinical purposes.
In cream form, tretinoin is used to treat many skin conditions:
- Acne: Tretinoin is commonly prescribed under the names Retin-A, Avita, and Renova.
- Keratosis pilaris: This condition is also called “chicken skin” because of the rough bumps it leaves on the skin of the upper arms and thighs.
- Stretch marks: Retinol increases collagen production in skin, making skin tighter and more elastic.
- Age, liver, and sun spots: Increased cell turnover causes skin to shed old layers of cells, leaving new, undamaged cells in their place.
- Wrinkles: Increased collagen and cell turnover work to decrease the appearance of wrinkles.
A chemical isomer of tretinoin, isotretinoin, can be ingested orally to treat severe acne. You may recognize this form of tretinoin under its trade name, Accutane. Accutane is a prescription drug, as are topical creams that contain more than the allowable over-the-counter percentage of retinol. Generally the highest reported levels of retinol in an OTC treatment hover around 1.0%.
Tretinoin and its isomers, which have the same molecular formula but different structures, are used to treat comedonal acne (whiteheads and blackheads) and can also improve the appearance of wrinkles. Tretinoin promotes new cell turnover, which unplugs clogged materials like oil and dead skin cells from hair follicles. It also prevents more dead skin cells from becoming clogged in the hair follicle.
However, with this cell turnover frequently comes dryness and flaky, irritated skin. Many people discontinue use of tretinoin products within several weeks because the irritation and dryness occurs before they see any improvements. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results right away. It actually takes 6-9 weeks for these creams to take full effect for acne and 3-6 months to see a difference in wrinkles.
Dealing with the dryness and irritated skin associated with tretinoin use can be difficult. Make sure to use plenty of moisturizer after washing your face, and don’t be afraid to reapply as needed throughout the day. Also, using a facial scrub or rough wash cloth helps to remove flaky skin, although you should be careful not to overscrub since this can cause more irritation. Once the skin adjusts to retinol, the side effects generally decrease with time.
Retinol makes the skin more photosensitive, or sensitive to light. Always wear sunscreen when using retinol products since the skin is more susceptible to sunburn. Choose sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and apply it to your skin every day no matter how long you plan to be outside.
Dr. Perricone includes retinol in one of his products, High Potency Evening Repair.
Used at night, High Potency Evening Repair works with DMAE, alpha lipoic acid, and the highest levels of over-the counter retinol to give the skin a smooth and renewed surface while addressing aging concerns like lines and wrinkles. ALA reduces skin imperfections while DMAE tightens and tones the skin, both reducing the appearance of wrinkles and damage.
Overall, the ingredients work together to create healthier and better looking skin, all while you sleep.
Because this product contains retinol, you should apply a thin layer to the face at night. To reduce the dryness and irritation that comes with retinol use, you may want to introduce the product into your skin care regime slowly. For example, try using it every other day for the first two weeks until your skin is used to the ingredients. This gives your skin time to adjust to retinol while also providing the benefits of DMAE and alpha lipoic acid.
To minimize dryness, make sure you have a good moisturizer on hand. Dr. Perricone’s Intensive Moisture Therapy is a great way to get the health benefits of antioxidants while thoroughly moisturizing and protecting the skin.